notes from the coast: Decapitated. 10.10.11

Technical Death Metal. It’s a sub-genre that has a rabid, dedicated following. But for others like myself, many find it very hit and miss. There is no doubting the sheer brutality or the dizzying technical chops these kinds of bands have, and there are certainly some I love. But my problem with most is that often times all one hears is a technical shred fest, or noodly metal as I like to call it. For me personally I don’t want to hear a long, drawn out showcase of brutality with a billion notes slapped together, I want to hear some shredding within the context of an actual, good song. I compare this subgenre to one that I grew up with which I call the “Shrapnel Shredder” genre. Guys like Tony MacAlpine, Vinnie Moore, Marty Friedman, Dave Chastain, Paul Gilbert, etc…, were some of the best guitarists and fretboard gymnasts around, but none could write great songs. What set apart the great thrash bands of that era from most every other metal band at the time was the ability to write great songs AND blend seamlessly some serious technical ability.

Which brings me to Monday night at the Whisky and polish death crew Decapitated. This was a serious bill with no less than eight bands on the bill, the biggest ones being Fleshgod Apocalypse, Rings of Saturn, Decrepit Birth and the mighty Decapitated. As I’ve stated before, I’m not the biggest technical death metal head and it’s tiring seeing a billion unheard of bands so I decided I would skip out on most of them in order to maximize my enjoyment.

I showed up about half way through Decrepit Birth‘s set and even though I had never heard them before picking up last year’s Polarity I was a little bummed I had missed the full set because they are actually pretty good. Not surprisingly, these guys have a reputation for some serious chops and they certainly didn’t disappoint in that regard. The songs were pretty much what i expected, but what stood out for me were the two newer songs, Polarity and Symbiosis, they just seemed more cohesive than the older songs I’ve heard. Not being enough of a Decrepit Birth fan, I’ll keep my mouth shut on that, but if this band is starting to actually focus more on songwriting, then count me extremely interested in hearing more from these guys.

But this night was about nothing other than seeing my favorite death metal band for the first time, Decapitated. Most everyone already knows the tragic story of the band losing drummer extraordinaire and Vogg’s loving brother, Vitek, as well as singer Covan to paralysis in a van crash. They were well on their way to dominating the death metal landscape when this all happened and it had the same impact as when Metallica lost Cliff Burton. In losing a critical piece of their potent formula, most didn’t know if they would ever be able to capture that same magic, most saying they would never match the sheer brilliance of the past, much less carry on in the future. Yet here they were, giving it a second go around tonight, proving all the doubters and naysayers very very wrong.

After the brief atmospheric open from The Fury, Decapitated came out guns blazing with furious opener The Knife from brand new album Carnival is Forever which drove the already fired up crowd into a frenzy. New singer Rafal “Rasta” Piotrowski whose dreads lived up to his nickname, came out grinning ear to ear at the sight of the packed Whisky crowd going rabid in the pit. He did a great job all night keeping the crowd riled and participating in death chants with every song. But all eyes would shift to new drummer Kerim “Krimh” Lechner as the band launched into the punishing Day 69 to see how he would hold up in place of the legend. Once he killed the jazzy opening intro and started blasting away, everyone knew this guy was for real, playing with a precision and brutality that would make Vitek proud. New shredders Pest and United followed and the band, rounded out by bassist Konrad Rossa, looked like a well oiled machine and had the crowd clamouring for more.

Band leader and riff master Vogg shredded away like a man possessed, ripping into the brutal Post(?) Organic from the brilliant Organic Hallucinosis. The huge banner behind the stage read From Pain to Strength and no doubt Vogg, who’s had to endure more than his share of pain, was taking this statement to heart on his first tour since the tragedy. You could tell he was enjoying being back on stage as his sharp, jagged riffs sliced and cut with precision and it didn’t seem to matter whether they were dissecting old death classics like Mother War or newer ragers like Homo Sum. It was great to see, not only because I hadn’t seen it before, but Vogg is still in the elite class of death metal forces and his talent and contributions to the death metal genre are extremely necessary and desperately missed. Unfortunately, this performance was way too short as they would only play 3 more songs from this point. But after one more new track the band really brought the house down closing the set with the title track from seminal first album Winds of Creation then ending with the neck snapping Spheres of Madness off the Nihility album. The crowd went berserk and definitely made the security work extremely hard for their money on this night.

I left the Whisky with a huge smile and was fully satisfied as i finally got to see this Polish death metal crew tear it up live, something I wasn’t sure I’d ever get to see. I know there are some who don’t appreciate the new material as much or care for the direction the new version of the band seem to be taking, but I couldn’t care less because Decapitated are back and better than ever. The aura of the show was very reminiscent of some of the old thrash shows I used to see back home in the bay area back in the day with a packed house, great crowd, and a devastating performance by a killer band. In my opinion, like those classic bay area bands, Decapitated should be, and certainly deserve to be regarded as one of the best bands in the world, hands down. A must see if you get the chance.

Decapitated Setlist:
The Knife
Day 69
Post(?) Organic
Mother War
Homo Sum
Winds of Creation
Spheres of Madness